To some it is the length of an engagement; to others, the lifespan of an entire marriage; to the lucky, perhaps, but six of fifty-six. Or seventy-six.
Six can be a beginning or a lifetime.
Often, it is the first day of first grade—a beginning into the understanding of the self as it relates to other selves in the world.
Fridays at work it’s half of a dozen bagels.
In a kennel, it’s a litter of sightless, yelping puppies.
Turned upside down, a nine.
This year—this particular sixth year—I am bereft of wit, pith, charm, eloquent speech, or otherwise. Not that I have any of those abilities anyway (at least not self-proclaimed), but this year I don’t have any words of self-professed wisdom—I’ve not written a poem or lyrics or even a heartfelt paragraph—so I will attempt no grand explanation of Life’s meaning, nor will I retell my story for the sixth year in a row.
I give you nothing more than this most obvious of revelations:
Parents are not meant to outlive their children.
This seems like such an obvious creed that it should n’er be mentioned. Unfortunately there are far too many of us who are members of one or more clubs—clubs into which no person actively seeks membership—and at times (particularly on Gregorian life’s little anniversaries) we somehow feel the need to speak up.
The I’ve Got Cancer club.
The My Family Has Disowned Me club.
The I’ve Never Known My Father club.
The I’ll Spend The Rest Of My Days In Prison club.
The I’ve Outlived My Child club.
Of course, there are countless others, and I apologize if I did not mention yours. It seems we’re all members of some group from which we’d give just about anything to exclude ourselves. Don’t you find that the most difficult part of membership stems from the non-members? Perhaps there is a logic to that, I don’t know. But it seems to be a human condition that we ignore the kinds of things that put us into these “clubs” until, well, we’re right smack in the midst of membership.
What’s worse is that many of us offered no condolences or compassion or sympathy toward the people with which we now find ourselves comrades until we were forced to mingle amongst them. Too many of us ignored the other shoe. The upside is that, by and large, members of these clubs are quite understanding and forgiving. Most of them stood where you once stood. They, too, pretended that life would never be so cruel as to select them for membership.
Some were God-fearing. Some still are. I don’t particularly care for the term “God-fearing”. You’ll never convince me to fear my God. I can think of a thousand words to describe my feelings toward God (and they haven’t always been kind words), but fear has never been one of them.
Some people who’ve lost a child (or faced some other life-shredding tragedy) never thought much about God before, during, or after their loss. Many don’t (or can’t) equate the two. I know people who loved God before He took their children and now can’t feel anything but hate. I also know people who never believed in God until they lost their most precious gift—and now they lean on the grace of a God they never before knew.
Mostly, I believe, it is not about God. There is no selection process; there is no list. God isn’t Santa Claus and He’s not out there punishing the naughty and rewarding the righteous. Just look at one hour of the evening news and, if nothing else, you’ll believe that.
I do like to believe that there is a purpose and meaning in everything. I am also intelligent enough to understand that there’s a decent probability that such belief (or need) is a human condition and that it has little to do with any actual proof that one thing causes or begets another. I’ve never pushed my own beliefs or theories very hard onto anyone else, or at least since my younger days—days when to argue anything fed my ego. A big reason for that is quite simple: we will each reach our point of understanding when we’re meant to.
That’s my core belief. Not what you will (or should) believe, but that you will believe something—not think you believe, then change your mind twenty times (something most of us also do)—but, rather, at some point, you will settle on your final belief of the world, of your spirituality, of your soul (or lack of one), and when that happens, there will be only one thing you have in common with everyone else: peace. And you’ll know that because you won’t want to trample the earth, proclaiming your knowledge and deriding others’ beliefs.
You’ll just know; and that will be enough.
I can’t explain to you what it feels like to lose a son. I’ve lost one, and I still can’t explain to you what that feels like. I can’t even explain it to others who have lost children. I can’t explain it to my wife. For us—in a rendering of fate and faith that rocks me still to this day—my wife and I have always been so well-matched that we don’t need to know what the other is thinking; we don’t require the other to think or feel like us. We are contented to simply be there for the other in their time of need. And to believe we will see our Brody again one day.
And so we survived, where many couples did not.
There is no medal around the neck. There is no trophy, named after a legend.
There is no pat on the back.
The other sure thing—the thing that we each have in common, whether we’re members of the same club or not—is that life doesn’t care, and it marches along, oblivious to our sorrow and loss and overwhelming emptiness.
Time stops for no one. But in its vigilant and perfect continuation, time offers us perhaps the most valuable gift of all—greater than our own life; greater than the grandest of our successes; and yes, even more valuable (or at least more necessary) than our children:
You can’t bottle that. You can’t teach it in medical school or even in the sanctuary. It isn’t magical, or spiritual, or intellectual, or available to just this one religion or to just that one—it simply is.
Shock becomes pain, pain becomes a wound, scars seal our wounds, whether they are ready to be closed or not.
Those scars, they remain—some visible, others hidden, even from ourselves—but each is just as invaluable as the next; they are invaluable reminders that we persevere.
And they never allow us to forget.